Continuing our chat with the iconic game designer...
GU: One last question. We were talking about it a bit before recording, but what do you think of the Wii U?
David: Well, I've been in the industry since 1993 when I started working as a tester. I've gained enough experience seeing so much hardware and peripherals come and go, some becoming hits when I thought they were going to flop. I remember when I first saw Ridge Racer on PSP... I had just tried the DS and thought, 'That's pretty cool', but when I saw Ridge Racer I said, 'Dude, the DS is fucked'. The DS to me was the equivalent of the [Sega] Saturn when we first got PlayStations in at Sony Image Soft. It was game over to me. Now, the PSP was ultimately a success - it made it's money and did especially well in other territories - but the DS obviously was the clear winner.
I respect Nintendo because they're always reaching, just like Apple - one of my favourite companies - just like Sony, even Microsoft with Kinect. This is a great, vibrant industry that's always stepping up to the plate and taking chances. I love that about being in the industry, but I've done it for long enough to realize... well, look where we are [Points to retro arcade display]. This is wasteland of home consoles, and all of them had something cool about them.
So when I look at something like the Wii U, as a gamer I'm excited to get my hands on it, but you can't know for sure until you're sitting on your couch on a Sunday afternoon with it. Until that happens, I don't have the foresight to know anything beyond that it's cool, which isn't disrespectful. I just don't know if it will sustain a library of classics. The Virtual Boy was cool, but that doesn't mean it's something you want to play for more than an hour.
GU: Is your gut feeling that the long-term appeal might not be there?
David: No, not really. My gut is I don't care. Part of that is because I'm not a technical designer. A lot of people will look at something like the Wii U or PlayStation Vita with the augmented reality stuff, and think about new mechanics. That's how most really good designers think. For me, I'll look at the high level stuff first - the concept, characters, story or emotion that I want the game to have - then I'll find the hardware to help express that idea.
My gut has been wrong a lot on this stuff. I thought Sony should've taken Blu-Ray out of the PS3. I'm an idiot...
GU: Some people might have agreed with you.
David: From a business standpoint, maybe they should have, because then they would have been 1. The cost is what kept them from being what they wanted to be. I imagine it wasn't anything else.
GU: With PlayStation Vita coming out at $249, it seems Sony has learned that hard lesson.
David: Exactly. But on the Wii U... I don't think it will do anywhere near as well as the Wii did. This is no disrespect to anybody. This is just a Jaffe scenario, me playing Michael Patcher for a moment. I think there's a large enough percentage of people who bought the Wii as something other than a gaming device, and turned it into the fad that it was. Most of that percentage is going to go away now. I don't think enough of them have become 'gamers'. They tried [the Wii], now they're onto something like free-to-play MMOs and then they'll move onto something else. How many of them got converted into actual gamers? I don't think a large portion.
Then if you look at families, a lot of kids want iPads, iPhones and iPods now. And a large portion of the people who would've been interested in traditional Nintendo stuff, beyond core gamers, are just as happy playing Storm in a Teacup on iPad versus a new 3D Mario.
Between those two audiences going away and the number of choices core gamers already have on the other systems - which, let's be honest, a lot of them like super-amazing graphics on their 3D TVs and stuff like that - a lot of people are going to be better served going to the competition. It doesn't mean the Wii U isn't going to work, but I think the perfect storm of interest that worked for the Wii won't happen again, because there's enough competition speaking to those interests at a cheaper cost.
I think the Wii U is going to be less successful than the Wii, probably 50% less successful. I don't think you're going to see the Wii U at 1 in the next console generation. But I also thought the PSP was going to kick the shit out of the DS, so I don't know. I'm not trying to be mean to Nintendo. I grew up with Nintendo and I love them. That's just my guess.
GU: That was my initial thought as well. Even for Nintendo, who comes up with ideas out of left field, it seems incredibly difficult to appeal to everyone with the WIi U. In my mind, it's almost impossible to strategically plan for that.
David: Well, that's not necessarily true. Look at the iPhone you're holding right now. Here's what I think... Anyone reading this knows I'm loyal to Sony. Not that I don't like Microsoft, I do but Sony has always been good to me. So I want to preface what I'm about to say, because I don't want people to think I'm bashing them. I will work with Sony as long as they will have me, but they have an uphill climb - this entire industry has an uphill climb now - because of the iPhone and the iPad. Unless we as an industry get to cloud computing and gaming sooner rather than later, I think we'll have to get used to a noticeably smaller piece of the overall pie.
I think a large number of people are satisfied with the cheaper, downloadable gaming experiences on their phones. Even if you're talking PlayStation Suite, so I'm not saying Sony doesn't have some of that pie. People always have their phones with them, because they're a one-shop device. That means traditional [console / handheld] games have to be so much better in order to get enough people away from their phone to game. I think that's why you see less games [at E3], because publishers have to put so much money into the games they do make to compete at that high level. [The iPhone] is such a fucking disruptor. It will be an interesting thing to watch over the next couple of years.
GU: Thanks very much for your time, David.
Twisted Metal hits store shelves this fall on PlayStation 3.